Sorting Through Minnesota’s Depth at Center

Sep 19, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) and center Mason Cole. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports.

Garrett Bradbury needs to earn the starting job. For a while, the assumption was that he’d simply win the spot, but Kevin O’Connell’s recent press conference suggests that the former first-round pick will need to earn it. That reality shifts some of our focus to Minnesota’s other options among their center depth.

On the Vikings’ website, there is a full 90-man roster list. Two players are listed at center: Bradbury and Josh Sokol. However, there are also two players given the “G/C” designation: Chris Reed and Austin Schlottmann. Combined, the Vikings appear to have four options currently on the roster.

Bradbury, despite some struggles, remains the favorite. He was a first-round choice in 2019 and does do a nice job as a run blocker. He’s also very capable of getting out in space to lead the charge for a screen. These positives give him a chance, especially if he does improve in pass protection.

The favorite to win the job after Bradbury is Chris Reed, the journeyman offensive lineman who most recently played for the Colts. Previously, he has also played for Jacksonville, Carolina, and Miami. In fact, Reed started 14 games for the Panthers in 2020 and he had 6 starts for the Colts in 2021. In other words, Reed has accumulated a lot of experience over the years. That versatility and experience is being put to the test as he competes for the starting center spot. The fine folks over at relayed some of Kevin O’Connell’s assessment of the veteran offensive lineman:

“Luckily, a lot of the communication between that guard spot and center kind of goes hand in hand,” O’Connell said when asked about Reed playing more center than he has in the past. “A lot of those combinations, whether you’re working with a center or away from the center in protection, so I think there’s some carryover in our system and a lot of systems really, but there’s nothing like having to be the guy making the calls.

“The snapping element, as you guys have seen, probably some of my stronger frustrations through camp have been when the ball has been on the ground via the quarterback-center exchange,” O’Connell added. “That’s a real thing, and every single one of those has its own story, but we don’t want to see the ball on the ground at all, especially in that center-quarterback exchange, but I think where [Reed is] at right now, he’s able to handle it as the veteran player he is. He’s played enough football to make that transition.

“I don’t worry at all about the mental side. It’s just the physical nature of having to deal with, being the starting point to every play on every down while also still having a critical role in our communication,” he continued. “I think that’s where you’ve seen with Kirk [Cousins] and that first group, if Chris has been in there at center at times or even at right guard, just that group’s ability to communicate some of the nonverbal stuff they’re already progressing to within our system. It’s really cool to see them kind of start pushing the envelope there because that’s what we’re going to need to do throughout 17 games this year.”

As you can see, the issue for Reed isn’t with his intellectual capacity to be an NFL center. Rather, it’s the unique skills necessary to be able to snap and block effectively. It sounds simple, but it really isn’t. Reed is the center who provides perhaps the most upside of all of Minnesota’s depth options.

Sokol and Schlottmann face an uphill battle to make it onto the roster. It’s possible that we aren’t seeing a strong competition for the C1 job but, rather, the C2 job. If Reed shows he’s competent, then that might force Schlottmann out. Reed could then be relied upon to be the backup for the three interior spots, thus opening a roster spot to keep a player elsewhere. For whatever it’s worth, Schlottmann has been in the NFL for three years, all of which came in Denver. He has started 7 games in his career and is nearing his 27th birthday.

Unless there’s a signing or a trade, the options are somewhat limited in Minnesota. Bradbury is the favorite, and Reed is perhaps the main competition. The performance in preseason games will be crucial.